Do you Wahoo?

The great American writer William Faulkner, in his 1949 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, spoke these words:

“I believe that man will not merely endure; he will prevail. He is immortal not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.”

I thought of these words last Saturday at the first Wahoo Music Festival in Plymouth. Nestled in a comfortable side meadow of the Amador County Fairgrounds, the festival featured a stellar lineup of national roots music, including Maria Muldaur, the Cate Brothers, Coco Montoya and Angela Strehli who delivered some soulful medicine. Sacramento bluesman and radio-show host Mick Martin (who doubled as a great festival MC) and local favorite Mumbo Gumbo rounded out the ambitious, talented lineup. All gave all this day, with poignant, hopeful words and heightened musical performances to TV-weary fest-goers, rattled by life post-September 11.

Muldaur’s concert staple, “Please Send Me Someone to Love,” by the poet laureate of the blues, Percy Mayfield, had urgent meaning: “Heaven, please send / To all mankind / Understanding / And peace of mind / And if it’s not asking too much / Please send me someone to love.”

The good people at Wahoo Productions have been producing events in Sacramento, Calaveras, Tuolumne and Amador counties since 1995. This was their first large (12-plus hours!!) music festival, and they partnered with a number of worthy nonprofits linked under the aegis of the Sierra Non-Profit Support Center. That Wahoo would go after the massive Arkansas soul of the legendary Cate Brothers and bring them out to the West Coast for the first time in six years is reason enough to genuflect. Their late afternoon set was magnificent. Ernie Cate’s hot-buttered soul voice, and brother Earl’s velvet arsenal of guitar tones regenerated a 1960s Stax Records sound and iced it with a modern groove that sent a sadly too-small crowd into an Elysian field of dreams. Coco Montoya, the young turk of blues and soul (and the closest thing to Albert Collins any living person will hear) gave one of the best performances of his career—the select crowd knew they were witness to moonlit magic. And show closer Angela Strehli is Texas blues royalty. Next year, please bring her back and get her on earlier so full crowds can swoon.

Wahoo got so much right this first time around: excellent sound from Loud Sound of Sacramento, friendly volunteer staffers, reasonable ticket prices ($20 advance/$25 day of show), good nonprofit causes, a free information-packed program guide, a comfortable location, a kid’s activity program, plenty of easy-access parking, decent food, java drinks and beer (what, no wine in wine country??), and even a masseuse backstage to keep the hard-working musicians limber. Here’s hoping for justice, peace on Earth and a Wahoo Two.